Particularities

One of the very best things that maturing as an individual offers you is the practice of mindfulness.  Put simply, you start to recognize when you’re being difficult, whiny, indulgent and you change your behavior accordingly.  For example, it simply puzzles me how certain people need to take a survey of everyone else’s opinions before making certain life choices.  Aren’t you the one using the mortar/pestle, dress etc?

Similarly, when you’ve been exposed to certain theorists in the social sciences, your eyes begin to pick up on certain aspects of everyday life and think of them in novel ways.  For example, when you’ve learnt of Bourdieu you can never really go back.  Of his many theories, the one I find most relevant in my life is the one of “habitus.”  To summarize very broadly, it just means that our upbringing, values and past experiences all shape our current socio-cultural outlook and outcomes.  In the larger scheme of things it matters because there are also practices in play that impact the process of social climbing through the accumulation of wealth and privilege.  Face it, we all want the best and are a part of the game, whether we are aware or not.  So, this is helpful in two ways: one, if you want to take part and win a little, you can actively take on endeavors that will help you reach your objectives for success; two, you are able to understand people’s motivations with a bit more compassion because, habitus comes into play for all of us.  Now, it is important to remember that the best players make it look effortless.  Everyone tries but some come off a bit desperate.

Taking this into consideration, I can better understand certain aspects of my own character.  My love for fashion did not come out of nowhere but was initiated by a mother who taught me from a young age that it matters how we present ourselves to the world.  God, you should have seen some of my outfits as a child, she has impeccable taste.  It is from her that I learnt the value of clean lines, well-cut tailoring and how our styles can reflect our sense of self.  When you love fashion, it’s easier to engage with these principles when you have a body that you’re comfortable in.  Life’s too short not to look and feel great and obviously everyone defines this for themselves and on their own terms.

Secondly, I am particular when it comes to aesthetics, not just in fashion but also the material world.  This type of need for perfectionism also carries through to my love of the culinary arts.  There is nothing that feeds the soul more than good food.  Yes, you can still indulge in this realm while setting limits on portion size and using some common sense.  And god, if you do have a treat don’t waste it by feeling guilty.  You would have done better not eating it at all.  Being particular means that I’m also a control freak who tries to not ask for help.  Therefore, when you come over to my house my answer will probably be “no thanks” when people graciously offer their assistance.  It’s no slight to them, I’ve just been raised and surrounded by perfectionists who have thoroughly frustrated me.  When someone takes you up on your offer to help out, but nit picks everything in the process, you kind of want to say, WTF, do it yourself.  Therefore, knowing this, I do it myself.  And, if I do ask for help I relinquish control and try my best to keep my mouth shut so that the person gets to feel the full satisfaction of getting something done.  Really, you can change it when the individual goes home anyways to not hurt their feelings.

Thirdly, control freaks are infamous dissectors and this often gets worse when they become parents.  Especially in this day and age when there are so many books available about various methods, it’s easy to become too mindful of your actions.  My very blunt PhD supervisor, who is also a mother, once said to me “hey, as long we’re not locking our children in closets and beating them, we’re doing pretty good.”  So, a little common sense comes into play.  Love them, be there, and do your best but give yourself a break.  There are so many critics already, do not add to the noise.  It is also pretty likely that with any social interaction, we will crash into each other in the best of ways.  Habitus demands it.

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Game on

I have a strong dislike for football.  I know that most sports are physical but there’s just something about having a position that solely consists of running through other bodies and dealing with the damage that doesn’t sit well with me.  Also, sitting on a commuter train with a hoard of Patriots fans on Super Bowl parade day didn’t exactly endear me any more to the game.  So needless to say, my husband and I are going to discourage our son from playing this sport in the future even though he will be growing up in America.  Andrew takes a stronger stance and says that “C will never play this sport.”

My perspective softened slightly after the Patriots won the Super Bowl and I started to listen to some of the media interviews.  I only really became interested because of the Malcolm Butler story.  Come on, who does not love the underdog triumphing in every way imaginable on game day?  One soundbyte that was quoted frequently basically involved Malcolm saying that it doesn’t matter where you came from, but it matters what you do when you get there.  This is a scrapper who did not give up.  Fuck, that’s inspirational.  If you watch the interception you notice that he sort of puts his shoulder in front of the other player to get at the pass.  You get that grit from having to fight for a spot on literally the last train that was going to come for you in your pro career.

Many other players also spoke of how what ensued on the field was nothing special because these were the exercises that they performed each and everyday.  What they achieved did not happen because of an exceptional event but instead was the result of the time they put into their craft.  That is such an important message to any young person who may be looking up to them and hanging onto their words.

Never having been particularly sporty, other than excelling at swimming, I wished that I had had this sort of influence for most of my life.  This type of work ethic and determination can positively impact so many other aspects of your wellbeing.  I’m happy that my son has an athletic father to grow up with who can nurture this part of his development.  My husband is not cocky, loud or boisterous, in spite of both his intelligence and talent in various athletic endeavors.

Through his immersion in learning to ice skate each Sunday, my son’s current idols consist of hockey players.  A few weeks ago a young player was practicing on the ice with his full gear on.  As he’s making his way off the ice, C points out to his dad that there’s a real hockey player.  This thirteen year old kid, with Ashworth on his uniform, smiles and comes over to say hi and gave my son a high-five.  Later on, when C takes a tumble on the ice Ashworth comes over, helps him up and even demonstrates for a bit how to skate, and man, he was a great skater.  I was amazed that at a such a young age he was so humble, nurturing and sweet.  I’ll take these type of hockey stars over Spiderman or Batman any day.  Play on player.

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Rush rush

Isn’t it strange that you sometimes don’t understand the profound depth of song lyrics till you’re a bit older?  “Life is a highway.”  True facts, thank you Tom Cochrane.  This all stems from my recent experience of caring for my son while my husband was in California.  My relationship with motorized vehicles has strengthened my resolve that my child will learn to drive at the age of sixteen.  He will then have years of practice and not be like his mother at the age of thirty-two, pretending not to be scared when driving in winter for the first time.  The process of reading signs and signals will be second nature to him and this life skill will be much like breathing and not gasping for air.

The other lesson I’ve obtained from a week of shuttling my young son to and from preschool is that it stresses me out when my husband takes business trips.  It’s not because of the bedtime negotiations or preparing the meals.  No, I just don’t want to get behind the wheel.  The stakes are much higher when my most favourite person in the world is in the back seat and I want to be the perfect chauffeur.  But like any challenge that makes you grow, the best decision is to always take it on, because practicing is precisely what lowers these stakes.

Most importantly though, I’ve learnt the value of slowing down.  When in doubt, put your foot on the brakes (safety permitting), breathe, and figure out how to solve your latest problem.  This made me realize that any mistake I’ve made in life has been because I’ve wanted to rush through things.  I have a very bad habit of avoiding the pain.  Sure sure, I take on the challenge but I also occasionally shut my eyes and wildly make my way through without being focused and deliberate.  This is not a good strategy whatsoever.  Everything from test scores, performance reviews to the health of relationships are impacted negatively by this type of tactic.

Instead, why not just take your time?  I know that we are forever taught to get the answer, to get to the point.  You’re rewarded for putting your hand up first in class and it becomes addictive to be the smart, nice girl.  This can make us rush headlong towards this type of praise instead of being intelligent with our efforts and mindful about the quality of the product.  So, I’ve learnt to slow down because eventually getting it over with just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Maybe being in your thirties can make you more self-reflective because you do start to notice the passage of time.  I no longer want to waste my time on half-assed results.  Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in being timely and not letting perfectionist tendencies stall projects.  I just don’t believe in distinctly separating the work and play aspects of my life nor prioritizing one over the other.  Both deserve your undivided attention.

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Imagine that

Before I even turn the first page of a novel, I have to find the appropriate actor or actress to fill the part.  So many screenplays are now adapted from best-selling novels, so a trip to IMDB often suffices.  Why do we need those individuals in our mind’s eye?  Lets be honest now, they aren’t hard to look at either.

When I first read “Fifty shades of Grey” they were still casting for the roles so I was lucky enough to have my own image remain intact.  As many of you know, the book started as a fan fiction that was written for Bella and Edward from Twilight.  Well that’s easy then because you just have to imagine Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson playing some emotional and physical games.  Done.  As soon as the trailer for the actual movie was released though, my illusions were shattered and I knew I would never see the film.

First off, I personally do not know what the big scandal is with consensual BDSM.  To put it bluntly, it’s just what gets you off.  Some people like to be called sweetheart, others, well, prefer something else.  As long as it’s between two consenting adults, it’s none of our business.  We clearly have two very public instances of when it’s not alright, like when you slap a woman on the side of her head because you’re a quasi Canadian celebrity, or when you drug women to rape them.  That is not okay.

Returning to “Fifty shades” though, the casting was particularly disappointing because of the aesthetic.  I don’t think I’m being particularly superficial here since film-making is built on the principle of finding representatives to tell a story; part of that is how they look and carry themselves.  As soon as Jamie Dornan came on the screen I knew that he was too attractive and well, Dakota Johnson was a bit too sweet.  The appeal of Robert Pattinson is that he’s slightly dirty and disheveled but can still pull off a suit better than most men because he of his edge.  His history of participating in the underground London scene with all that it entails, including the substance abuse and complicated sexual pairings, somehow just is part of his physicality.  Similarly with Kristen Stewart, she doesn’t look like every other girl that you went to high school with.  Her features and personal style are a bit more unusual and couture.  She’s different and has an infuriatingly bratty attitude that you know would attract a damaged control freak like Christian Grey.

Though the writing is obviously not going to win a Pulitzer, the novel has its own market and appeal.  For all those people assuming that it’s only stifled housewives who are buying it, your thoughts are sexist and demeaning towards individuals who raised you.  Their free labour is in one of the hardest and most under-appreciated sectors in society.  Secondly, everyone has fantasies and it doesn’t make them a bad person.  There is nothing to be ashamed of.  A high-horse on the other hand is nothing to be proud of.

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Bend it

Whatever would we have done without our 20s?  Those glorious days when we had the opportunity to be bad, chase boys, be irresponsible and then make our way home.  All within reason of course.  Initially I was going to say within the limits of not hurting people but who are we kidding, we hurt plenty of people in those days.  Most of us just attribute it to the process of growing up and I’m pretty sure that no one is holding onto those slights.  I would hope that we are all over it.

But seriously though, how can you possibly make your way towards being a semi-whole person without that time to falter a bit while still trying hard to be good?  How can you determine what your values specifically are without testing the boundaries?  How do you know what you will and will not stand for without witnessing first hand what you and others are capable of?  How do you function without the ability to not be a judgmental brute?

And you know what, maybe those who never participated were always more sure of themselves than the rest of us.  I’m pretty sure that they were busy winning awards and their names were honored at convocation.  Seriously, congratulations on working so hard.  No, seriously, that type of discipline is often more valuable than actual talent.  But I do hope that you were just not afraid of what other people might think or what punishment you’d receive for breaking the rules.  Because if that is the case, you might have missed out on an integral life phase too.  Judging by the careers of my friends and peers we made it out alright too, non?

You know when you need this “wild” time the most?  You need it when you’ve learned to reign it it, or as my favorite blogger and media personality Lainey would say, when you’ve learnt to “sit down.”  Because there will be plenty of occasions in life when you have to be the more honorable person and behave with grace and dignity.  There will be times when you’ll be called on to be selfless and put the well-being of your family above your own.

These thoughts and others are what I ruminated on a lot when I was in the early months as a first-time mother.  The lack of experience with babies drove me, a perfectionist, absolutely crazy.  I like to be prepared and sorry to say that this is the one time when you kind of just have to learn as you go.  I also have always liked to have my own space and my own time, which are the very first things that go.  Suddenly, you have someone who depends on you all the time.  Funnily enough, when my calling came to give it all, I thought about the times when I was the most selfish.  As strange as it sounds, this integral phase when I had to diminish my wants, at least for a little while, was made easier because I already had had that time to be free.

So many people are petrified of raising girls.  I’ve heard it said again and again, about how a girl would be nice but they would be so much harder later.  As many of you know, I grew up mainly with women since even in a large family where both my parents had four other siblings, everyone inherited daughters but one.  I say that we are blessed.  Observing all of my cousins I am proud that we are so different but all found a way to use our talents to callings that we love.  I’m so honored to be amongst women who stayed true to themselves.  So, I don’t fear raising a daughter.  I think she could do worse than a woman who was trained academically and by life to be a feminist.  Because, due to my politics I believe in her gender equality.  Part of that gender equality is faith in her personhood and belief in my chance to help instill good values that she can always return to.  I have the best parents.  Trust me, we always come back.

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Like

I always tell my son that he has to try liking everyone, with try being the operative word.  I’m sure it’s common practice to say to most toddlers, whose worlds are very literal and often black and white, that they have to like everyone.  Well, I don’t really believe that.  Do you like everyone?  I imagine someone with a fake smile plastered on their face, a smile that never really reaches their eyes.  Frankly, it kind of creeps me out.  But I do emphasize making the effort to like someone because it is our duty to behave respectfully towards everyone, there is no alternative to that.  Plus, having different personalities in our lives are an important part of growing as individuals.

Don’t you find though that there are some people whom you will never really connect with?  No matter what they do it’s your first instinct to react, and react with varying levels of negativity.  My husband says that it’s very much a lens and one that was built over a history of misunderstandings.  It’s like having Instagram on all the time and on one of those filters that distorts and make everything a bit unattractive.  To some, having this type of relationship would bother them.  They would start to examine how they were being judgmental or unkind.  Of course some of that comes into play but I also consider how the other person, intentionally or not contributed to the situation.  So, what can you do?  I mostly try to lessen the impact of these toxic connections on my life because it’s just too exhausting to manage those negative emotions.

Sometimes though, you don’t have a choice in the matter and these are relationships that may be life-long.  No matter what, this person will be a part of your existence.  So, you have two choices: you can try to change how you feel about them or you can put some distance between the two of you.  In the end there’s only so much you can do to eliminate frictions that result from having different approaches and values.  As vanilla as it sounds we tend to gravitate towards individuals with similar experiences and outlooks.  I don’t even think it’s malicious, conversation just tends to form more easily with some more than others.  I say, lets not stress about it but allow ourselves to be particular.  Let’s not fight.

A prominent guru Ram Dass states that “If you think you are enlightened, go home for Thanksgiving.”  The writer Elizabeth Gilbert takes this further in her analysis by emphasizing that your family will of course push your buttons because they are the ones who put them there.  I don’t view this negatively at all.  Truly loving someone means that you see chips in their facade and love them all the more for it.  Anytime you gather together a group of strong personalities there is bound to be some conflict, whether it gets articulated or not.  I find that we are made to fear frank discussions so much because it’s not seen to be particularly dignified.  I just find it way less “classy” when people are leaving things unsaid but you know that they will gossip about it tomorrow.  I do agree that silence is sometimes the best thing for these situations because the need for honesty should be tempered by long-term thinking.  Do you really think the specific context will improve when confronted?  If not, then maybe a bit of acceptance is key.

The thing with family too is that you know that they are always going to be a part of your life so treat them well.  You have a history together and a bond.  So it is a balance, like everything else in life.  I believe that Ram Dass also states that it is our purpose to love everyone in the world since respect is integral to forming this type of affection.  But some people are better loved from a safe distance.  Now, that is one of the most pragmatic and real things that I’ve heard from a guru in a very long time.  Sometimes a little bit of space can be the best thing for a relationship.

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Silver pony

I have fond memories of a second-hand, ratty little bike, or what I called the silver pony.  This was the vehicle that got me to work and dinner and back again during the months I spent in a small border-town in Thailand.  It’s strange how memory has the ability to smooth out the edges and change how you felt about things back then.  My time in Mae Sot was a jumbled mess of contradictions, loving the friends I made and hating some of the inconveniences.  I missed my housemates, cafes and American brunches in Chiang Mai so much that I rode a bus for six hours, one -way, every other weekend to have some respite.  But somehow, my time with the silver pony remains the same: a mixture of fear and pure freedom.

The reason that bikes are invaluable in many parts of Southeast Asia is that it’s too hot or rainy to walk everywhere.  The street dogs are territorial and when night falls in a more rural community, the streets become eerily quiet.  Just like you wouldn’t go down an abandoned side-street in the most metropolitan of places, you also need some wheels to get back to your guesthouse in this context.  And so the silver pony was my constant companion, the one that stopped at the market for some coconut sticky rice or ginger tofu, the one I rode to a cafe on the weekends for some beans and naan bread and the one that saved me from the crazy dogs after watching David O Russell’s The Fighter.

Riding was also a great time to think, well other than when you’re not dodging cars or people.  I still recall the feeling though, always without a helmet, in a skirt and with the flip flops and sunglasses.  It’s the easiest way to be young again.

My husband counts it as a pure miracle that I made it out of Mae Sot without a single accident.  I say it’s more miraculous that I took a bus up and down the side of a mountain every other weekend without incident.  As I’ve told you before, I’m not the most coordinated of people and spatial problems seem to trip me up.  Other than the wipe out in the Muslim quarter and accidentally running into the bottles of a man selling un-licensed liquor, it was pretty uneventful.  Basically, I rode away each time sheepish and saying “sorry” over and over again.

Near the end of my time there I was counting down the days to leave.  Not because I was not grateful for the learning opportunities and the amazing women I met and worked with.  No, it’s just because I missed not having to be on edge.  I longed to walk through Toronto, a place I know so well, without the slightest instinct to be aware of my surroundings.  And so I left, and I remember distinctly telling my friend that there was not much that I would miss.  She wisely told me that I would.  It’s true you know, there was no other place where I did more yoga drenched in bug spray, ate more Banofee pie made of condensed milk (nothing has come close since), chatted with nice people, or read before falling asleep each night by nine o’clock.  Perhaps it’s because within a year of leaving, I gave birth to my son and everything changed.  It was an ending you know, to a time when I could just decide to leave for months at a time to a more precarious setting.  With that new perspective I can safely say that it was a trip Mae Sot, and I thank you.

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